STUFFED MEDJOOL DATES WITH CASHEW CHEESE AND BACON
This recipe is a winner for anyone catering a festive event this time of year. These dates are real crowd pleasers (you can omit the bacon for an equally delicious vegetarian version, and even replace it with wilted chicory leaves). With so many flavours in just one small mouthful, people take a good few minutes to finish one, masticating on each element more than they realise, before commenting on its tastiness. The sweet, chewy texture of the medjool dates, combined with the creaminess of the cashew cream cheese and topped off with a smoky saltiness from the meat is a taste sensation like no other. Perfect as a lunch box snack (easy to pack and easy to transport), served on platters at a canapé event, served as snacks, starters or sides at an informal Christmas gathering or enjoyed as ‘afters’ - part of the cheese board or a cheeky evening snack.
+ I’ve also done this recipe with chestnut cream fillings instead of cashew cream which has worked really well. Simply blend 200g soft chestnuts with 1/2 tin solid coconut milk and a little coconut oil, until smooth. Add salt, tamari, garlic and nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavour, or leave as it is for a subtly sweet, creamy alternative.
20 Dates, pitted
3/4 Cup Cashews, preferably soaked for 2-4 hours
1/4 Cup Macadamia Nuts or Brazil Nuts (optional - or just another 1/4 cup cashews)
1/4 Cup Water
Pinch of Himalayan Pink Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1-2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Tahini, optional
Fresh Herbs of Choice
200g Organic Bacon or Good Quality Ham (use bacon if you want to cook the dates, and use ham if you want to keep them cold and uncooked).
1-2 Shallots or 1 Tablespoon Onions (raw or cooked, either with work)
1 Small Clove Garlic (caramelised with blend better - bake in the oven for 25 minutes until the clove becomes soft)
Start by slicing your dates lengthways down the middle, careful to score them and not to slice the whole way through. You want them to open at a hinge, rather than cutting them into two separate halves. Place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper and prepare the cashew cheese.
Place the cashews, water, macadamia or brazil nuts, salt, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice into a blender and blend on the highest speed. Stop to scrape down the sides, reduce the speed slightly and blend for another minute. Add the nutritional yeast, tahini and shallots if using and blend for a final time, for 1-2 minute, until the mixture is completely smooth. There’s nothing wrong with it being a little lumpy, it will resemble a feta or goats cheese sort of texture, especially once cooked, but i like the cheese to be as smooth as possible. Now, take a teaspoon of the cheese mixture and fill the dates with it. Depending on the size of your dates you may want to use more, or less.
Now prepare the bacon or ham. You can either wrap the bacon or ham around the stuffed dates, or you can dice the meat and add that to the cheese stuffing too - this works best in larger dates which you are able to almost close. If you are wrapping the dates, slice the bacon in half lengthways, take a date and place it on one end of the meat. Then carefully roll the date along the bacon, wrapping it up neatly until it is covered. Place it back onto the baking tray and repeat with the other dates. This method creates a much smokier flavour in the dates and the cheese as they catch and absorb the smoky flavour of the meat during the cooking process. If you decide to add the meat to the stuffing, simply dice it into tiny pieces, spoon it onto the cheese mixture and mix it in slightly to combine. Return to the baking tray and repeat with the other dates.
When each date is nicely stuffed and wrapped, place them under the grill for 10-15 minutes, until the bacon is fully cooked. Turn the dates over after 5 - 10 minutes so they cook evenly. The dates and cashew cheese don’t need to be cooked through, so as soon as the bacon is done, remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly. Either serve warm on a sharing platter or as canapés, piercing a cocktail stick into the middle of each one to make them easier to eat, or serve as part of a cold buffet, with cranberry chia jam or homemade christmas chutney.
+ Store in the fridge for up to 4 days.